New York Times Bestselling AuthorSusan Orlean, hailed as a "national treasure" by The Washington Post, reopens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history and delivers a dazzling love letter to a beloved institution -- our libraries.
"*Starred Review* Libraries pulse with stories and not only those preserved in books. When creative nonfiction virtuoso Orlean (Rin Tin Tin, 2011) first visited Los Angeles' Central Library, she was transfixed. Then she learned about the 1986 fire, which many believed was deliberately set and which destroyed or damaged more than one million books and shut the library down for seven years. Intrigued, Orlean embarked on an all-points research quest, resulting in this kaleidoscopic and riveting mix of true crime, history, biography, and immersion journalism. While her forensic account of the conflagration is eerily mesmerizing, Orlean is equally enthralling in her awestruck detailing of the spectrum of activities that fill a typical Central Library day, and in her profiles of current staff and former head librarians, including brilliant and forceful Tessa Kelso, who ran into censorship issues, and consummate professional Mary Jones, who was forced out in 1905 because the board wanted a man. Orlean widens the lens to recount the crucial roles public libraries have played in America and to marvel at librarians' innovative and caring approaches to meeting diverse needs and cutting-edge use of digital technologies. She also attempts to fathom the truth about enigmatic Harry Peak, the prime arson suspect. Probing, prismatic, witty, dramatic, and deeply appreciative, Orlean's chronicle celebrates libraries as sanctuaries, community centers, and open universities run by people of commitment, compassion, creativity, and resilience. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Orlean's best-sellers have long lives, and this well-publicized praise song to libraries will have special book-lover appeal.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2018 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin) doubles as an investigative reporter and an institutional historian in this sprawling account of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Public Library. On April 29, 1986, just before 11 a.m., a fire broke out in the stacks of the main branch and burned for seven hours, destroying 400,000 books and damaging hundreds of thousands more. Harry Peak, the man police believed started the fire, was arrested but never charged. Orlean's investigation into the fire-Was it arson? Why would Peak, a struggling actor and frequent patron of the library, want to burn it down?-leads her down the library's aisles of history, as she seeks out books on the flawed science of arson forensics along with titles from California serial killer Richard Ramirez's reading list to better understand the minds of psychopaths. Along the way, she introduces readers to California Public Library system staffers, among them Arin Kasparian, on the circulation desk; Kren Malone, director of the main branch; and Glen Creason, a senior librarian whose tenure spans "the fire [and] the AIDS crisis, which killed 11 librarians." Midway through, Orlean reveals her own motivation for her return to long-form journalism: her mother's dementia has made her acutely aware of how memories are doomed to be forgotten unless they're recorded. This is a persuasive reminder of the importance of libraries, whose shared spaces house historical treasures built with the common good in mind. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
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